PRAGUE, 31 January 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Members of President Rakhmonov's staff have downplayed the move as part of a normal reshuffle at the start of a new year. But coming just nine months ahead of a presidential vote, there were bound to be questions about how the move affects Rakhmonov's bid for reelection.
Saifullo Safarov, the deputy director at the president's strategic center, argued that there was nothing new in the changes.
"We have such a traditional reshuffling [officials] at the end and start of the year," Safarov said. "At the end of the year, such changes are usually made as a result of annual summaries of work. At the start of the year, they are also made as a result of annual summaries of the previous year's work of our cadres."
More than 20 officials were dismissed at the 30 January government session. They involve a number of deputy ministers -- including Abdunabi Sattarov, a deputy foreign minister and one of the last members of the civil war-era opposition to still hold a government post. But most of the changes affected district heads.
Rahmatullo Zoirov, the deputy chairman of the opposition Social Democrat Party, said that while the changes in government are a regular event at this time of year, this time there were some differences.
"This is not the end but only the start of the changes in 2006."
"In the first place, the session of government was a bit late [this year]. Secondly, the changes were in terms of number, much larger this year than in other years," Zoirov said. "But qualitatively, I must say that compared to previous years the changes did not affect the key posts in government, that is the leading figures in the government were essentially untouched."
Shutting Down Rivals?
Zoirov claimed the changes were meant to put Rakhmonov supporters into positions in local administrations and the public-service sector. He linked the changes with November's presidential election. He also singled out Ghulam Boyakov, who was replaced in the far southern Farkhor district. Zoirov said Boyakov's removal was meant to undercut support for Mahmadsaid Ubaidullaev, who is both the mayor of Dushanbe and speaker of the upper house of parliament. Ubaidullaev is one of the few political figures in Tajikistan whom many regard as a legitimate rival to Rakhmonov.
Boyazkov's dismissal could be taken as a sign that Ubaidullaev's support is being chiseled away -- either ahead of elections or simply to prevent a potential challenger from getting too powerful.
Safarov, from the president's strategic center, dismissed the possibility that Rakhmonov is seeking to placing loyal supporters in local posts to boost his chances in the November poll.
"Our president doesn't work like that," Safarov said. "In fact, none of those who were named to posts have any connection to matters concerning elections."
But Zoirov not only countered that the changes are connected to this year's presidential election -- he also predicted there was more to come.
"I think the changes in January came a little late, but this is not the end but only the start of the changes in 2006," Zoirov said.
Zoirov suggested that similar reshuffles would happen every few months ahead of the election, and he predicted that the biggest -- and most dramatic -- changes are yet to come.
(RFE/RL's Tajik Service contributed to this report.)